USDA Update: Getting to Know ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’

      Posted On: January 13, 2010

In September 2009, the USDA launched Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food: a USDA-wide effort to better connect consumers with sustainable local producers and spark a nationwide conversation about the importance of understanding where food comes from. Since then, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced Farm-to-School tactical teams that will tour American schools to evaluate how they might transition to purchasing local food, awarded $4.8 million to community food projects, and held a Facebook chat to expand conversation on local food systems.

The Farmers Market Coalition sat down with Deputy Secretary Merrigan during its board retreat in October, entering the dialogue about Know Your Farmer and some of the specific challenges faced by farmers markets in the coming decade.  In a follow-up letter sent to Merrigan and other top USDA administrators, FMC emphasizes seven priorities for ways the initiative can strengthen farmers markets:

  1. Build capacity of farmers market associations to provide leadership and services to market managers and producers
  2. Ensure consistent, accurate, and timely data on farmers markets.
  3. Improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accessibility of federal nutrition programs at farmers markets
  4. Promote, provide technical assistance, and maximize farmers market specific outcomes from USDA grant programs
  5. Provide information and technical assistance services to existing and start-up farmers markets across the country
  6. Inspire regional cross-pollination of ideas through a dynamic, interactive national database of farmers market operation and governance resources
  7. Research and communicate the broad spectrum of farmers markets’ positive impacts to the public through National Farmers Market Week

In addition to FMC’s efforts, farmers markets are also gaining prominence in the USDA as a key component of strong community-based food systems through the Farmers Market Consortium, a public/private sector partnership formed by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in 2005. The Consortium, whose members include private and public funders as well as allied nonprofits, shares information about funding and resources available to support farmers market efforts. The Consortium’s work includes the creation of a Farmers Market Resource Guide (currently being updated) and the first National Farmers Market Summit, which was held in Baltimore in 2007. The next Farmers Market Consortium Meeting is scheduled for January 14.

The Farmers Market Coalition has also provided input in revisions to the Farmers Market Manager Survey, which AMS hoped to conduct again in 2010.  Stay tuned for information about how you can participate in this important study to help us all better understand the dynamics and needs of farmers markets throughout the country.  The 2006 Market Manager Survey is available here.